SmashTalk: previewing the US Open

Published by Tennismash

Novak Djokovic won his third US Open title - and 14th Grand Slam title overall - with victory over Juan Martin del Potro in 2018; Getty Images
The Tennismash editorial team shares its thoughts on some of the biggest storylines entering the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

The draws are out and the US Open is almost upon us. So it’s time to delve into the storylines and discuss what might unfold.

Who’s the favourite? Will Serena Williams re-write the record books? Will a young gun in the men’s game finally break through — or will the Big Three continue to dominate?

NEWS: Serena v Sharapova set for US Open first round

The Tennismash editorial team of Piers Newbery, Vivienne Christie, Matt Trollope and Leigh Rogers offer their thoughts ahead of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.

Which of the Big Three is most likely to reign supreme in New York?

Newbery: Rafael Nadal should arrive fresh and in good form after his victory in Canada, while Roger Federer can hardly be discounted after getting to within a point of winning the last major — but it’s now 11 years since he last won at Flushing Meadows. Novak Djokovic is defending champion, world No.1 and on a Grand Slam charge having won four of the last five. He’s the man to beat.

Christie: Rafael Nadal is the safest tip, given his fifth Canadian Open title made him the only Big Three man to win a lead-in event this year. And yet I can’t help thinking that these pre-events matter less and less as this elite group superbly time their peaks. I expect three-time (and defending) champion Novak Djokovic to further close the gap on his superstar colleagues with his 17th Grand Slam crown.

Trollope: Rafael Nadal. Whenever he’s been healthy on hard courts in the past two years, he’s been damaging. The Spaniard is brimming with confidence — he has won 21 of his past 22 matches — and the form he displayed in winning the Montreal Masters will have sent a message to his rivals. Nadal is also extremely comfortable in New York, having won the title three times (2010, 2013, 2017) to make the US Open his most productive major tournament outside of Roland Garros.

Rogers: Novak Djokovic is the one to beat. I don’t believe his semifinal loss to Daniil Medvedev in Cincinnati is a concern – he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in the Doha final then blitzed the field at this year’s Australian Open, and did not contest a grass tournament before winning Wimbledon. A lighter schedule means the defending champion should enter the tournament feeling refreshed and motivated – which is a scary proposition for his opponents.

Can anybody upset their monopoly over the majors? If so, who is the best placed to do so?

Newbery: If anything the Big Three appear to be stretching away from the chasing pack again. There are plenty of potential giant-killers among the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov, Nick Kyrgios or Stefanos Tsitsipas, but the chances appear remote of anybody knocking off two, or potentially three, of the best players ever in the same tournament.

Christie: Of course! It’s crazier than the era itself if we don’t even entertain the thought. With a title, two more finals and a come-from-behind win over Djokovic in the past three weeks Daniil Medvedev is the obvious tip as an “outsider” but I also wouldn’t dismiss Dominic Thiem’s potential to claim a long-awaited first Slam.

Trollope: Probably not. But if anybody can, it’s the game’s newest top-10 player, Roberto Bautista Agut. The experienced Spaniard is high on confidence after his breakthrough year at the majors — quarters at the Australian Open, semis at Wimbledon — and seems to be the only player outside the Big Three who troubles Djokovic. And, unlike the younger stars, he’s physically robust enough to handle five-set tennis in the US Open’s brutal New York conditions.

Rogers: Dominic Thiem is the logical choice – and although the world No.4 prefers clay courts, his hard-court ability should not be discounted. He pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets in a thrilling quarterfinal in New York last year and is the reigning Indian Wells champion.

Serena is again aiming for that 24th major singles title. Will she do it at the US Open?

Newbery: The stats suggest not. It’s now approaching three years since her last major singles title and despite reaching three more Grand Slam finals, she has been seen off each time by confident, in-form players in Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. Lack of matches appears to be an issue at the business end of the Slams now, but if anyone can overcome the odds once again, it’s the American.

Christie: Hmmm. What to read into Serena’s shock first round draw against fellow former champion Maria Sharapova? It could be an opportunity for the superstar to hit her winning stride early, or a sign of how deeply challenged her major pursuit has become. Either way, I don’t expect the record to come at this Grand Slam. Apart from the mental hurdle of the record, a physically vulnerable Serena simply hasn’t played enough tennis.

WOODBRIDGE: more tennis, less stress key for Serena

Trollope: I can’t help feeling that Serena carries too much mental baggage and scar tissue into New York each year, given what has transpired at the tournament for her since she last won it five years ago. The hype, the pressure — both self-imposed and from her vast legion of American fans — and the memories of the 2018 final simply won’t allow her to relax enough to swing freely and play her best tennis. I think she’ll win major No.24 — but I think it’s more likely to come in the calmer environment of Melbourne Park.

Rogers: There’s every chance. Serena’s win over Naomi Osaka in Toronto was her most impressive match since becoming a mother, which is a promising sign ahead of what is sure to be an emotional return to Flushing Meadows. Pressure will be high, but Serena’s resilience is unquestionable.

Again, there are multiple contenders for the women’s title. Who will walk away with the trophy?

Newbery: Take your pick. Defending champion Osaka is showing signs of form, recent world No.1 Ash Barty is now a serial contender, Madison Keys looks well placed to use home-court advantage, Bianca Andreescu is the breakthrough star of 2019, Serena is Serena… the list goes on. One woman due a major title and with a good recent record in New York is Karolina Pliskova, so maybe it’s her time.

Christie: It would feel un-Australian of me not to pick Ash Barty! And why not the Aussie superstar in her marquee year? With injury concerns for Naomi Osaka, 2016 runner-up Karolina Pliskova could also surprise us again at Flushing Meadows, despite her lack of lead-in form.

Trollope: Yes, there are so many contenders, yet many of them have question marks next to their name. One of the few who who doesn’t is Ash Barty. The Aussie comes in healthy, fresh off a recent semifinal in Cincinnati, with the confidence of a brilliantly consistent season under her belt. Her textbook technique and margin for error means her game is rarely at risk of breaking down, and her versatility helps her contend with all different opponents, or employ a different game plan if another isn’t working. Plus, she’s at her best on hard courts and has a reasonable draw. She’s my US Open pick.

Rogers: I love a feel-good story, so I’m tipping Serena. It would be magical for her to equal the all-time Grand Slam record in front of adoring home fans and on the 20th anniversary of her Grand Slam breakthrough in New York. It would be a grand story of perseverance and redemption, further cementing a well-deserved place in history.

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